I have been on the hunt for California Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley and plan to do so again during the Independence Day Weekend. So this past weekend decided to visit a couple wineries in the Santa Cruz mountains and say “Hello!” to a fellow ICC alumnus and fellow Certified Sommelier who works at Alfaro Family Vineyards. In June it is very common for the California Coast to experience a lot of morning fog but it usually burns off by noon, but during my visit we didn’t see very much blue in the sky.
Alfaro Family Vineyards is on the south side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, opposite side of the Silicon Valley, tucked away on the off-beaten path in the small town of Corralitos 17 miles from Santa Cruz and 20 miles from Monterey. It is an agricultural area that has been more well-known for growing apples and strawberries but some are now being converted to a more profitable crop – wine grapes. West of Corralitos are flatlands leading to the Pacific Ocean only 3 to 5 miles away and on the east are foothills to the Santa Cruz Mountain that rise to about 1,000 feet.
The close proximity to the Pacific Ocean is ideal for Burgundian grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which provides cool evenings and mornings to counter balance the warm summer days.
The Corralitos Wine Trail
Alfaro Family Vineyards is part of the “Corralitos Wine Trail” which was initiated by Craig Handley, proprietor of Pleasant Valley Vineyards. The wine trail is home to 4 other small family-owned wineries including Natal Vineyards, Nicholson Vineyards, Pleasant Valley Vineyards, and Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery.
The Winery and Vineyards
Alfaro Family Vineyards was founded by Richard Alfaro and his wife Mary Kay who had previously been the proprietor of Alfaro’s Micro-Bakery in Watsonville. In 1988 he sold it to Sarah Lee which provided the means to found purchase a 75-acre property, 56 of which are now under vine, which had previously been an apple orchard. In addition to his estate fruit he also sources Pinot Noir grapes from Garys’ Vineyard and Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Franscioni Vineyard in Monterey County, an unnamed vineyard in the Sonoma Coast, Gemelli Vineyard in Cienega Valley and vineyards in Corralitos. They produce two lines: Alfaro Family Vineyard and Corralitos with a total production is about 4,500 cases per year.
The winery has indoor and outdoor granite tasting bars with two adjacent picnicking areas overlooking the vines.
2012 Corralitos Chardonnay
This is a clear white wine, straw-yellow on medium- concentration and moderate viscosity. On the nose it has medium intense aromas of caramelized apples, canned pears, fresh pineapple with a hint of caramel, popcorn and butter. On the palate it is dry with additional notes of peach skins and orange zest with medium+ acidity, medium body and a medium+ length finish. This is a well-balanced California-style Chardonnay and I brought a bottle home for $20.
2013 Pinot Noir Rosé
This is a salmon-pink wine with medium- intensity and low viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of strawberries, cranberries and a hint of dried roses and spice. On the palate it is light, crisp and refreshing with medium+ acidity, medium- body and a medium+ length spicy finish. This wine sells for only $15 per bottle.
2011 Schultze Family Vineyard Pinot Noir
This is a clear, bright ruby-red wine with medium- intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of fresh cherries, raspberries and a hint of spice. On the palate it is fruit forward with fruit up front and clove, pepper and wine in the background. It is dry with medium- tannin, medium+ acidity, medium- body and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $40 per bottle.
2012 Mary Katherine Vineyard Pinot Noir
The Mary Katherine Vineyard is named after the vintner’s wife and it lies at the summit of the property, at between 700 and 850 feet in elevation on a steep terrace with an ocean view. The vineyard is planted to about 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. In 2008 the vines were planed on their own rooted vines selected from a Grand Cru Vosne Romanee Monopole vineyard.
This is a clear, bright ruby-red wine with medium- intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of black cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, cloves and a hint of pepper. It is dry with medium- tannin, medium+ acidity, medium- body and a medium length finish. I preferred this wine to the previous and yet it sells for $5 less at $35 per bottle.
2012 Gimelli Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel
The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Gimelli Vineyards located in Grass Valley, part of the Gavilan Mountain Range 12 miles southwest of Hollister, California along Cienega road.
This is a dark red wine, dark purple at the core to magenta at the rim with moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of raspberry jam, raisins, dates, and bramble bush. On the palate it is dry but fruit forward, very soft on entry but then medium tannins take a grip, it has moderate acidity, medium+ body and alcohol with a medium length finish. This wine sells for $22 per bottle.
2011 Billy K Merlot
This is a dark red wine, dark with minimal rim variation, moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of dark cherries, minor hints of mocha and cherry-vanilla. On the palate it is dry and fruit forward, very soft with medium tannins, medium acidity and a moderate length finish. This is a fairly simple wine that sells for $30 per bottle.
2012 Corralitos Syrah
This is a dark red wine, dark with minimal rim variation, moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of blackberries, blueberries, dried herbs and black pepper. On the palate it is dry with medium to medium+ tannin, it is medium bodied and moderately complex with a medium length peppery finish. This wine sells for $30 per bottle.
2011 Ryan Spenser Vineyard Syrah
The Ryan Spencer Vineyard was planted in 2001 and is named after Richard Alfaro’s son. It is comprised of 7 acres divided into 6 different blocks on a very steep hill between 450 and 800 feet in elevation. Grandma & Grampa’s blocks are located on the lower part of the hill and are planted to 4 different Dijon clones of Chardonnay, and Pommard clones 4 and 5 Pinot Noir. Billy K block is planted to one acre of Merlot divided between clones 343, 347 and 181. La Escalera is a terraced hillside block planted to Hermitage clones of Syrah. On the top of the hill is Mrs. K's block, which is planted to Syrah clones 470, 877 and 174 and has a vine density of over 2300 vines per acre.
This is a dark red wine, dark with minimal rim variation, moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of blackberries, blueberries, lavender, sandalwood, black pepper and a hint of tar. On the palate it is dry and soft on entry but then the tannins kick in with a lot of grip (medium+), it is medium bodied with a moderate length peppery finish. This wine sells for $30 per bottle.
To visit or for more information:
Alfaro Family Vineyards & Winery
420 Hames Road
Corralitos, CA 95076
Phone: 831-761-1174 (Tasting Room)